FAIRFIELD COUNTY – Sweeping election law changes proposed in Connecticut would make it easier for Fairfield County voters to register online, allow registration on the same day as an election and permit more people to obtain absentee ballots.
That would be helpful to Fairfield County commuters who work late in New York and often can't get back in time to vote, say state and local election officials.
“I am a strong supporter of reforming voter registration laws in Connecticut because so many people throughout Fairfield County have trouble getting to the polls within the mandated time frame,” said Wilton’s Democratic Registrar of Voters Carole Young-Kleinfeld.
The proposed changes are included in parts of several bills supported by Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, Secretary of the State Denise Merrill and the state’s Election Performance Task Force. Young-Kleinfeld represented the state’s League of Women’s Voters on the task force.
Merrill, a Democrat, convened the panel from July through December to evaluate Connecticut’s election system and find ways to increase voter participation.
If approved, the proposed changes would not take effect for the 2012 presidential election. Some reforms could be implemented by 2013; others by the statewide election in 2014, officials said.
“During the 2004 presidential election I was at a local polling place and a UConn student who lived in Wilton drove two hours from the Storrs campus just to vote,” said Young-Kleinfeld. “But when we tried to find his registration form, it could not be found and he was not able to vote. He was extremely disappointed.”
Since then, Young-Kleinfeld has fought for changes in what many say are some of the most rigid election laws in the country, which has resulted in a steady declines in voter registration and turnout. Less than 40 percent of those eligible to register and or vote in Connecticut actually turn out on Election Day, officials said.
One of the reasons for that is Connecticut is one of only about 10 states that does not allow pre-election day voting, according to election officials. Also, only those out of state on Election Day are allowed to obtain absentee ballots.
“We are one of very few states that doesn’t have early voting available to a vast majority of voters, and under Connecticut law you have to appear in person unless you sign a form saying you will not be in the state during an election,” said Merrill.
Merrill said Connecticut and New York are the only states that prohibit early voting and limit absentee ballots in their state constitutions.
“We want to change that and make voter registration more user-friendly to a whole new generation of voters,” she said. “But voter participation in the state has dropped rapidly, especially in local elections. We need to do something about that.”
Merrill said most of the proposed changes, such as allowing people to register completely online, would also cut costs. Currently voters can download and print out the forms, but they must still mail them in.
“The average cost of registering a voter in person is 83 cents, but only 3 cents when done online,” she said.
Fairfield Democratic Registrar of Voters Matthew Waggner said he strongly supports “no-excuse absentee ballots.”
“My concern with our current system is that, by requiring voters to give one of several predefined excuses to get an absentee ballot, many people who have unpredictable schedules or limited transportation wind up missing their chance to vote,” he said.
Visit firstname.lastname@example.org for the Election Performance Task Force report and recommendations.